PL 101: Introduction to Postlibertarianism

For the past three years, I have been thoroughly immersed in the liberty movement. As the president and founder of our club at Berkeley and a Campus Coordinator for Students For Liberty, I have had the opportunity to interact with lots of libertarian students, professionals, and celebrities. By no means do I consider myself an expert on the movement. As a youngling, I still have a lot to learn about libertarian theory and practice. However, I feel that in my fledgling affair with Lady Liberty, I have acquired an adequate sense of the movement’s strengths and weaknesses. The latter is the focus of this blog post.

Unfortunately, there are certain attitudes that many libertarians embrace that I find to be quite unproductive in promoting freedom. Indeed, a few of my fellow my club members and I have been casually discussing these attitudes over the past few weeks and have crafted a new ethos that we call “postlibertarianism.” Etymologically inspired by the philosophical school of postmodernism, postlibertarianism is similarly a reformative movement to question the common strategies that libertarians take in argument and action. To be clear, though, postlibertarianism is by no means an endorsement of its sister with a similar name. After all, anyone who’s read a work of Jacques Derrida’s will tell you that postmodernism has its downfalls!

So, what exactly is this strange new creature called “postlibertarianism?” I will elaborate on this ameliorative attitude in a list of characteristics that define it:

  • Postlibertarianism is embracive, not divisive. Libertarians are overly anxious to split themselves up. I am blown away at how many times I have been asked whether I’m a minarchist or anarchist, whether I prefer Koch or Mises, and what economic school of though I subscribe to. This is quite a tragic situation considering how small the movement is. A postlibertarian recognizes the futility of these divisions and seeks to build bridges rather than tear them down. In fact, a postlibertarian does not even call himself a postlibertarian because that would simply be continuing the cycle of division!
  • Postlibertarianism is humble, not dogmatic. Libertarians are incessantly extreme in argumentation. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, our unbudging positions are a sign of our logical consistency. However, this can appear as overly radical to newcomers. A potential convert, for example, can easily get turned off to the movement if some zealot chastises him for not believing in private roads or laws. A postlibertarian recognizes this danger of dogmatic shock and instead is humble in argumentation to slowly lead a hopeful convert down liberty lane.
  • Postlibertarianism views government more as inefficient than evil. Libertarians love to hate on the government, and well deservedly. Being coercive by nature, the government is pretty darn evil. However, we must remember that most people do not subscribe to this radical worldview. To the contrary, most have some positive attitudes towards the government, “After all, they build roads and enforce justice!” Thus, dropping the e-word in discussions with non-libertarians can easily lose their attention. A postlibertarian recognizes this disconnect between our perspective of government and others’ and instead argues on efficiency rather than ethics. After all, regardless of what one’s moral view of the government may be, nobody disagrees that the Postal Service is inefficient! A poslibertarian capitalizes on this shared viewpoint and seeks to slowly and rationally persuade his opponent to the Good Side.
You may have noticed some commonalities in this list. Indeed, that is because these three attitudes stem from the same root of the postlibertarian movement, a core of friendly humility. I think my fellow club member Charlie Deist sums the postlibertarian attitude best as being a “happy warrior for liberty.” Let us march on with swords of cordiality!
  • Anonymous

    So post-libertarianism = believing the same thing as libertarians but softening it up to attract less open criticism and be more crafty in “converting” new members? Reminds me of the apologist techniques the Christians are using nowadays.

    • http://caseyjgiven.wordpress.com Casey Given

      Precisely, and I find absolutely nothing wrong with that… especially when you’re preaching the truth like libertarians are! =)

  • Anonymous

    T.S. Eliot published “The Wasteland” in 1922. Jacques Derrida gave the lecture entitled “Structure, Sign and Play” in 1966. Almost 100 years, and 50 years, respectively, have passed.

    Yet, here we are. We still work our slavish toils, still pull our covers up just so before sleep, still listen to music and seek entertainment. We still stop to tie our left shoe for the second time, every morning, at exactly the same place a block from the front door. We still smile when people we like enter the room, we still find pleasure in a good joke. We still believe that ideas change the world, not the the other way around. It all signifies nothing so much as the glint of a hand passing over numbers on the face of a watch. Yet, here we are.

    Academia has this effect, often times, of making “much ado about little”.

    Incidentally, it always makes me laugh a bit to read “Derrida” juxtaposed against “truth”, considering the notion of logocentrism…

  • Anonymous

    T.S. Eliot published “The Wasteland” in 1922. Jacques Derrida gave the lecture entitled “Structure, Sign and Play” in 1966. Almost 100 years, and 50 years, respectively, have passed.

    Yet, here we are. We still work our slavish toils, still pull our covers up just so before sleep, still listen to music and seek entertainment. We still stop to tie our left shoe for the second time, every morning, at exactly the same place a block from the front door. We still smile when people we like enter the room, we still find pleasure in a good joke. We still believe that ideas change the world, not the the other way around. It all signifies nothing so much as the glint of a hand passing over numbers on the face of a watch. Yet, here we are.

    Academia has this effect, often times, of making “much ado about little”.

    Incidentally, it always makes me laugh a bit to read “Derrida” juxtaposed against “truth”, considering the notion of logocentrism…

  • http://unforliberty.com Barry Belmont

    I don’t know how much I agree with you here. Firstly, I would not call such an approach “postlibertarianism” as it does not seem to either go beyond the bounds nor replace the foundations of current libertarianism (what a “post” prefix necessarily calls for). And secondly because it doesn’t appear to be anything but “being nice” to convert people to your position.

    Now let me say that what you are advocating here is a fine strategy. Embrace others, be humble, and recognize government as full of inefficient busybodies and not evil tyrants are all fine things to do with one’s time. In fact it is reminiscent of Phil Platt’s “Dont Be a Dick” approach to critical thinking and science popularization that lit up the internets about half a year back.

    However, I think it is unnecessary to adopt this strategy lock, stock, and barrel amongst all proponents of libertarianism. And the reason is the division of labor in conjunction to the many ways different people are convinced of the truth of something. For some people a nice reasonable debate among intellectuals will sway their thoughts, others are more emotional and will appeal to those philosophies that just “feel” right, others still will laugh at things like South Park and Penn & Teller’s Bullshit and jump on board the libertarian bandwagon that way, and yet there is that subset of people that just need to be smacked in the face with a cold wet fish.

    There are those that just need to be cut to size, lambasted, and practically humiliated for their previously held (and incorrect) beliefs. And I would say that many fall into this category. I myself have argued the most fiercest and with the most conviction moments before I was proved entirely wrong. Obviously, I never think at the time, Gee, my mind has been changed forever. More likely I think, What an asshole, I just can’t get through to this person (and no doubt they are thinking the same thing). But given a little time to think about it and a little cooling on the brain, I see that I was wrong, embrace the truth, and am a better person for it.

    So what I’m getting at is that you shouldn’t just dismiss the cathartic element of Libertarian Dickishness. It takes all kinds to build our house up. You’ve got the sensible leaders (Big Pappa SFL), you’ve got your humble convincers (Cal SFL), your smarty pants wearers (CATO, Mises, Reason, etc), and you’ve got fish slingers (UNR SFL) and we’re all trying to make the world a better place. You shouldn’t disallow the fish mongers simply because they smell bad: we, too, are contributing, one slap in the face at a time.

  • http://unforliberty.com Barry Belmont

    I don’t know how much I agree with you here. Firstly, I would not call such an approach “postlibertarianism” as it does not seem to either go beyond the bounds nor replace the foundations of current libertarianism (what a “post” prefix necessarily calls for). And secondly because it doesn’t appear to be anything but “being nice” to convert people to your position.

    Now let me say that what you are advocating here is a fine strategy. Embrace others, be humble, and recognize government as full of inefficient busybodies and not evil tyrants are all fine things to do with one’s time. In fact it is reminiscent of Phil Platt’s “Dont Be a Dick” approach to critical thinking and science popularization that lit up the internets about half a year back.

    However, I think it is unnecessary to adopt this strategy lock, stock, and barrel amongst all proponents of libertarianism. And the reason is the division of labor in conjunction to the many ways different people are convinced of the truth of something. For some people a nice reasonable debate among intellectuals will sway their thoughts, others are more emotional and will appeal to those philosophies that just “feel” right, others still will laugh at things like South Park and Penn & Teller’s Bullshit and jump on board the libertarian bandwagon that way, and yet there is that subset of people that just need to be smacked in the face with a cold wet fish.

    There are those that just need to be cut to size, lambasted, and practically humiliated for their previously held (and incorrect) beliefs. And I would say that many fall into this category. I myself have argued the most fiercest and with the most conviction moments before I was proved entirely wrong. Obviously, I never think at the time, Gee, my mind has been changed forever. More likely I think, What an asshole, I just can’t get through to this person (and no doubt they are thinking the same thing). But given a little time to think about it and a little cooling on the brain, I see that I was wrong, embrace the truth, and am a better person for it.

    So what I’m getting at is that you shouldn’t just dismiss the cathartic element of Libertarian Dickishness. It takes all kinds to build our house up. You’ve got the sensible leaders (Big Pappa SFL), you’ve got your humble convincers (Cal SFL), your smarty pants wearers (CATO, Mises, Reason, etc), and you’ve got fish slingers (UNR SFL) and we’re all trying to make the world a better place. You shouldn’t disallow the fish mongers simply because they smell bad: we, too, are contributing, one slap in the face at a time.

  • http://caseyjgiven.wordpress.com Casey Given

    Precisely, and I find absolutely nothing wrong with that… especially when you’re preaching the truth like libertarians are! =)